Wednesday, January 26, 2000

John Barber

p. A1

A $25 ticket to a police state

Ominous decal campaign strikes a blow against democratic ideals

Thank God for the decals! They make everything clear. They remove all doubt. they end the argument.

For a $100 donation to the Toronto Police Association, you get a gold decal; for $50 a silver decal and for $25 a bronze one. You put the decal on your car. It announces your allegiance to the police force. Not only your allegiance, but the precise degree of it. The distinctions are important.

But even a bronze decal has to be better than none at all. Drivers who fail to display any of the decals now being sold by the Toronto Police Association are presumed to be critics of police — or, in the delicate phraseology of police board chairman Norm Gardner, they are "scumbags."

(That is the word Mr. Gardner used in an interview with this newspaper to describe groups critical of police.)

I have not seen any of the decals yet, so I'm not sure where exactly they are designed to be placed. I would guess though, that they would achieve their greatest impact if placed conspicuously on the driver's side window, so that anybody who might happen to approach one's car from that direction and request an interview — whoever that might happen to be — would be sure to see it.

Are we there yet? Have we driven our democratic, civil society to the point where it has come to resemble an old-fashioned Latin American thugocracy? The answer is no. Not yet. But police association chief Craig Bromell is speeding us along as fast as his considerable energy can manage.

We take democracy in Canada for granted, said Howard Morton, a lawyer and former head of the Special Investigations Unit, who spoke yesterday at a press conference denouncing the association's campaign. We believe that as long as there are no coups, everything will be fine. but we couldn't be more wrong.

Odious decals wipe out any doubt about Operation True Blue

"We lose our democracy piece by piece, and every time we lose a piece of it, we lose something that took centuries to obtain," Mr. Morton said.

Operation True Blue, as the campaign is known, with its misleading appeals to vulnerable citizens — not to mention its odious decals — is "a definite piece."

Before the decals, pundits and politicians disputed the merits of the campaign, in which telemarketers are soliciting money that the police association intends to use "to make our communities safer." It inspired a debate.

Some bleeding hearts fretted that hiring private detectives to dig up dirt on politicians considered to be enemies of the police, which the association has done and continues to do with the funds it raises, has nothing to do with making the community safer. They see it as a frightening assault on the basic principles of democratic society.

Others, most prominently Ontario Premier Mike Harris, countered that Operation True Blue is no different from campaigns used by Ontario teachers to target unloved Progressive Conservative politicians in the last election.

It is a ludicrous argument that makes no distinction between the powers enjoyed by police and those enjoyed by teachers. If there is no difference between the two, why are there dozens of paragraphs in the Police Services Act that precisely delineate the political activities in which police may and may not engage?

Teachers do not arrest people, and the last time I checked the rules and regs (Harris-style back-to-basics notwithstanding) they are not authorized to use deadly force.

But that argument is past now. The decals end it. The decals prove that the police association is operating what the Law Union of Ontario correctly described as a protection racket. The decals prove that those sweet words about community safety in the telemarketers' scripts are just candy coating on a crude shakedown.

And you had better be careful what you say when they phone, because the executives of the Toronto Police Association know who you are and where you live. They proudly admit to maintaining a black list of perceived enemies and to launching vigorous action against them.

Decal anyone?

The decals are so disgusting that even Mr. Gardner says he thinks they aren't "tasteful," although he won't say what he thinks of Operation True Blue as a whole.

That is just not good enough. Surely it is a duty of every leader in the city to denounce this racket in no uncertain terms.

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

Created: October 7, 2000
Last modified: October 7, 2000
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